Monetizing Piracy

An Ars Technica story provides more information about the U.S Copyright Group’s litigation campaign against movie downloaders.  As mentioned here in March (see Bit Torrent-ers Beware) the Group is the revenue-generating brainchild of a Virgina law firm.  As reported by Ars Technica it’s a simple idea:  identify downloads of an independent film, team up with film’s producers, sue the anonymous John Does for copyright infringement, subpoena their identities, agree to settle for short money (compared to going to trial), split the proceeds with the film’s producers, rinse, repeat.  Ars Technica identifies the films and number of defendants named in the eight suits, all filed since January 2010 in D.C. federal court ; The Hurt Locker is the best-known.  U.S. Copyright Group has sued over 14,800 defendants to date.  If the plaintiffs obtained an average of just $500 per defendant (a number I pulled out of the thin air) they would gross $7.4 million.  From where I sit $500 per defendant seems plausible–some John Does will remain unidentified, some won’t exist, some will be judgment-proof, but even so an average of $500 per defendant is not a ridiculous plug number.  Whether the lawyers’ costs come off the top or not, and even if the costs are $100/defendant, the net would be about $6 million.  Ars Technica plugs in larger numbers to calculate a settlement pot of close to $20 million.  Whoever is closer, it’s real money.